Sunday, October 18, 2009

US officials, MILF rebels meet in Mindanao

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / October 18, 2009) – United States officials have met with top Moro Islamic Liberation Front leaders at a tightly guarded rebel base in the southern Philippines.

The MILF is the country’s largest Muslim rebel group which is fighting for decades for self-determination in the main island of Mindanao where security forces backed by US military intelligence are fighting terrorism and insurgents.

Leslie Bassett, US deputy ambassador to Manila, led Friday senior American officials in a two-hour meeting with Murad Ebrahim, the secluded leader of the MILF, in Maguindanao’s Sultan Kudarat town. Basset has assured Ebrahim of the US support to the peace process in Mindanao.

The MILF is currently negotiating peace with Manila in an effort to end the bloody fighting in the restive, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao. “The meeting was warm and forthright; and it lasted for about two hours,” the MILF said.

It also quoted Bassett as saying that the US is willing to provide more assistance and play important roles in the peace talks.

“She acknowledged with appreciation the commitment of the MILF in pushing for the peaceful resolution of the conflict even the United States government greatly respect and support people’s struggle and aspiration to achieve peace in the region,” the MILF said.

It quoted Bassett as saying: “Helping attain and sustain peace, security and development in Mindanao is a priority concern of our government.”
Ebrahim, for his part, reiterated the commitment and determination of the MILF to resolve the Muslim insurgency problem in Mindanao through a negotiated political settlement.

“We convey the utmost gratitude and felicitation of the MILF and the Bangsamoro people to the United States of America and His Excellency President Barack Obama for the unfaltering commitment to support to the peace process and peaceful conflict resolution between the government and MILF,” Ebrahim said.

He also praised US humanitarian and development projects in Muslim communities in Mindanao. “Peace-making and peace-building must go hand in hand in resolving the Bangsamoro problem and the conflict in Mindanao. The US government is providing indispensable contribution to these efforts,” Ebrahim said.

He said since the US occupation of the Philippines, the Muslims have sought a separate homeland from Washington. “Our Bangsamoro forefathers officially asked the United Sates as early as 1921 and followed up in 1924 and in 1935 to separate Bangsamoro homeland from the Filipinos of Luzon and Visayas once independence will be granted to the latter. The Moros wanted to remain under US rule rather than being annexed to the Philippine Republic,” he said.

Ghazali Jaafar, the MILF deputy chieftain, also appealed to Washington to help in the resolution of the Mindanao problem by addressing the root cause, which is political, emanating from the grant of the US of independence to the Philippines which had immorally and illegally incorporated the Bangsamoro homeland.

“The US government knows very well the background of the conflict both historically and legally, and we believe that US can greatly help toward the peaceful resolution of the conflict,” Jaafar, who was among those in the meeting, said.

Other senior MILF leaders also in the meeting were Mohagher Iqbal, the group’s chief peace negotiator; Muhammad Ameen, Secretary of the MILF Central Committee; Gordon Sayfullah, Senior Commander of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Force; lawyer Datu Michael Mastura, a member of the peace panel; Jun Mantawil, head of Peace Panel Secretariat, and Toks Ebrahim, chairman of the MILF Ceasefire Committee.

Bassett was accompanied by US Embassy Political Officer Michael Pignagtello, Elzaida Washington, the Country Director of the United Sates Agency for International Development, and Anthony Senci, Embassy Defense Minister.

Bassett arrived in the Philippines on June 26 to assume as Deputy Chief of Mission for the US Embassy. She served previously as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Mexico City; and also in Gaborone, Botswana; in addition to assignments in Colombia, Israel, South Africa, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

In the State Department, Bassett worked for the Under Secretary for Political Affairs and at the National Security Council. She is a distinguished graduate of the National War College, holds a master’s degree from the John Hopkins University, and received her undergraduate degree in international relations from the University of California at Davis. (Mindanao Examiner)

No comments: